Guerilla Poetry

Words: Rachel Solomon
Illustration: Fiona Christensen
Location: Durban Beach-front, Target: People with ears

IMGThis article was meant to cover the first poetry evening hosted by The Stand.ZA Poetry Collective that my friend and I started together, but that fell through. So, with nothing to lose and nothing to gain, Ed and I hit the street to perform guerilla style poetry.

Ed and I have a collection of poems each that always seem to be written at 3am when we should be doing other things. We decide we’re going to perform these, unsolicited, to a crowd of innocent bystanders. The idea is based on our belief that words belong everywhere – and also because we couldn’t find a location to host us. So we’ve packed our wooden boxes and novelty gorilla gloves and are set for the assault.

When we arrive on the beachfront, however, a conversation breaks out between the two of us and we reach new conclusions: words belong everywhere and to everyone, and for our Guerilla Poetry to be representative of the fluidity and diversity present in the throngs of people frequenting the Promenade, simply shouting our own poems at the top of our lungs just won’t do.

Just past the place where obese people unashamedly take outdoor showers (and leave no stone un-scrubbed, I might add), we find a dry spot between a gang of snarky teenagers whose parents’ are probably about to pick them up, and the resident hobo who is affectionately referred to as “Lion Man” (because of his glorious golden mane and the fact that he walks on all fours).

The two of us sit down cross-legged and pull out our poetry journals. Ed and I begin to furiously scribble poetry, looking about for inspiration and stopping every other person walking by for input. “Excuse me sir, what rhymes with life?” we ask one dude. “What do you think the moon does at night?” we ask a young girl. And my personal favorite: “Sorry to bother you, but would you mind filling in the blanks?”. The nice, middle-aged lady blinks at us for a minute and then tells us to go ahead. Ed grins at me (he’s got that kind of s**t-eating grin that just makes you feel sorry for the old lady). He turns to the lady and puts on his best poker face, “I would like to _____ her over and give her a ______”. I can’t tell you what she said, but I will allude to her incredibly dirty mouth – she has one.

This charade carries on for about another 20 minutes as we build a well of Durban stories. Most people are happy to participate and others completely ignore us – I suppose asking for words is like asking for change in this landscape of silence. What’s interesting is that very few people (even the ones that filled in our blanks – heh) asked us what we were doing. They simply answered and moved on, almost glad to be rid of us. Nevertheless, we have enough material and a small crowd of interested onlookers has gathered. It’s go-time.

The moon is out, the weather is fine and a family of Chinese tourists has just snapped a picture of us – for the first time, we are Durban’s number one attraction. Unperturbed (but secretly hoping they got my good side), we take the position: standing tall and proud on wooden boxes spaced 5m apart, we begin screaming poetry into the Durban night air. Is it good? Who knows – Ed and I can barely hear ourselves over the din of skateboard wheels and a child’s cry as his one treat for the night hits the cobbled pavement in a soft-servy mess – but these are their words.

People of Durban, you have spoken, and what you have said is, “… the moon dreams and the air is thick with life, but it’s harder to slice apples with a spoon than a knife.”